VIPERS ADVANCE, ROCKETS ELIMINATED

VIPERS ADVANCE, ROCKETS ELIMINATED

Despite another valiant effort from the Strathroy Rockets their 2016-17 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season is over.  The LaSalle Vipers have moved on to the Western Conference semi-finals against the Leamington Flyers with a 5-2 win over the Rockets in game four on Tuesday, March 7 to sweep their quarter-final series 4 games to 0.

The Vipers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead by 6:21 of the opening period only to see the hard-working Rockets battle back to tie the game at 2-2 by 8:38 of the second period.  The winning goal by Nathan Savage came at 8:35 of the third period.  The Rockets stormed the Viper goal for the remainder of the game but were unable to find the equalizer.  In the dying moments of regulation time the Vipers needed a pair of empty net goals to secure the win.  Over the four games LaSalle tallied five empty net goals as the Rockets pushed the top ranked Vipers to the final buzzer in each and every game.

The effort shown in the final game and the entire series was a testament to general manager/director of hockey Mike Bondy, head coach Jason Glover and his coaching staff for the excellent way they prepared these fine young athletes for a gruelling playoff series against the Conference’s top club.  LaSalle finished in first place in the Western Conference with a 37-9-0-4 record while the eighth place Rockets had a 16-27-2-5 record.

As in the previous games in the series the Vipers utilized an effective powerplay to squeak by the Rockets.  The Vipers went 2 for 6 with the man advantage while the Rockets clicked on 1 of 5 chances.  The Vipers outshot the Rockets 14-4 on the powerplay.  The Rockets once again outshot the Vipers in even strength play, this time by a 34-26 advantage.  Final shots on goal favoured the Vipers 40-38.

The two teams skated through a very evenly played opening period.  Just 1:41 into the contest LaSalle capitalized on a pair of Rocket turnovers in their own end.  Maddux Rychel (1) tallied his first goal of the post-season after some nice work with linemates Liam MacDougall and Tyler Russell.

With Rocket Ty Glover off with a holding penalty, Daniel Beaudoin (2) put the Vipers up 2-0 at 6:21.  Beaudoin redirected a high point shot from Brendan Soto past helpless Rocket goaltender Zack Weir.

With Rocket Chris Wood in the penalty box for hooking, Rocket rearguard Dalton Good sprung speedy Rocket penalty killer Tristan Sedlak (1) with a pass.  Sedlak outraced the LaSalle defender and swooped the puck past Viper goaltender Eli Billing with a deft backhand to cut the Viper lead to 2-1 at 11:50.

Good finished the playoffs with 5 points, leading the Rockets in post-season scoring.  Good, along with regular season scoring leader Steve Griggs, will not be returning next season due to age restrictions.  They represent the only two players from this year’s roster that will be ineligible to return next season putting the Rockets into an excellent position to move up the standings.

Before the first period ended Rocket Max Ewart had an excellent opportunity to tie the game but was stopped by Billing on a breakaway.

After a wide-open first period that featured a great deal of end-to-end rushes and plenty of scoring chances, coaches Bill Bowler of the Vipers and Rocket coach Glover had their teams tighten things up in the second period.  The two clubs played a more patient, tight checking period.  It took nearly 7 minutes until the 330 fans saw their first shot on goal.

The middle frame saw just a single goal.  With Viper Beaudoin in the penalty box for a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Michael Wood (2) tapped in a rebound from a Greg Marks blast from the point that Billing was unable to corral at 8:38 to tie the game at 2-2.

Shortly later Marks crushed Chris Playfair with a solid open ice hit.  Underage Rocket defenseman Brady MacDonald lifted the Rocket fans from their seats with an electrifying rush that nearly netted the Rockets the go-ahead marker.  The 6’ 4” Dorchester native had a terrific game and will be a huge asset to the club next season if he does not land a spot with the OHL Peterborough Petes.  MacDonald was a 9th round pick last year from the Elgin Middlesex AAA Chiefs.

Late in the period the Rockets dodged a bullet when Spencer Allen was assessed a double minor for roughing after a dust-up with Viper Dede Cato.  The Rocket penalty killers and Weir stood tall to send the two clubs into the second intermission with the game deadlocked at 2-2.

With the series on the line the hitting intensified in the third period.  Russell sent a shock wave through West Middlesex Memorial Centre with a massive open ice hit on Sedlak.  The ice began to resemble a warzone as the two teams battled for a territorial advantage.

Savage’s (2) series winning goal came at 8:35.  Weir was overpowered by a laser point shot from Cato.  Weir managed to block the drive but the rebound trickled to an open side of the Rocket goal where Savage pounced on the loose puck.

Shortly later Russell had an excellent opportunity for a crucial Viper insurance goal but shot wide of the Rocket net on a breakaway.

With 2:16 remaining in regulation time the Rockets’ hopes of a tying goal were diminished when the referees were forced to send Allen to the penalty box  after Playfair’s stick exploded.  Undeterred, the Rockets stormed the Viper zone sending Weir to the bench for an extra attacker.  After a minute siege by the Rockets around the Viper goal, MacDougall and Beaudoin eventually managed to send the puck into the neutral zone where Primeau (8) outraced the Rockets for the empty net powerplay marker.

The Rockets pulled Weir for a second assault on the Viper goal.  With time winding down Viper defenseman Zack Hoffman (1) blindly cleared the puck out from in front of his goal and saw it slowly glide into the vacated Rocket goal.

Displaying a superior level of sportsmanship, compassion and camaraderie Rocket captain Lucas Latina went to take the final faceoff of the game at centre ice with 2.1 seconds remaining on the clock.  He noticed teammate Griggs, who was setting up at left wing and was playing the final shift of his Rocket career.  Latina motioned Griggs to the centre ice dot giving him the honour of taking the final draw.  Griggs won the faceoff.

The Rockets won 46 of 79 faceoffs (58.2%) with Griggs (16-12, 57.1%) and Latina (15-6, 71.4%) topping the Rockets.  Playing in his final game as a Rocket, Good led his teammates with 7 shots on goal.  Ewart and T.J. Harris each had 5 shots on goal.  Harris also led the Rockets in hits.

The Rockets played without regular season goal scoring leader Cody Schneider.  Jeff Williams saw his first action of the series returning after missing six games with an injury.

Former Rocket head coach Brendan Riggin was in attendance to cheer on his former club.   Riggin had left the Rockets this season to join the coaching staff of the University of Western Ontario Mustangs Men’s hockey team.  He joined former Rocket Steve Benedetti, who also serves as an assistant coach and former Rocket general manager/director of hockey Dan Gibson, who serves as the Mustangs director of scouting.

The Strathroy area Scouts were present with a display to promote their “Maples for Vimy” project.  The Vimy Ridge Living Memorial of Honour in France will see up to 100 Scouts, Cadets and Leaders travel to France to plant 500 premium quality maple trees on Vimy Ridge and the communities surrounding the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.  They will be arranged into “Living Memorial of Honour” representing each of the four Divisions in the Canadian Corps, and one representing the units attached to the Canadian Corps.  The trees will be planted on sites that are identified as having been the areas where the Canadians, under the leadership of General Sir Arthur Currie, were deployed while leading up to the battle as well as the actual battle grounds.  The planting will take place in the week before the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, on April 9th, 2017.

In the other Western Conference quarter-final series, the second place Chatham Maroons swept the seventh place St. Thomas Stars 4-0.  The third place London Nationals needed five games to dispose of the sixth place St. Marys Lincolns and the fourth place Leamington Flyers ousted the fifth place Sarnia Legionnaires in six games.

In the semi-final matchups the Chatham Maroons will play the London Nationals while the LaSalle Vipers have drawn the Leamington Flyers.

(photo credit – Colleen Wiendels Photography)

 

David Honsberger

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